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Wait Until Dark

Classic cat-and-mouse thriller is lean, mean and surprising

Deya Ozburn stars as Susy Hendrix, a blind woman using her wits to stay alive. Photo credit: Tim Johnston

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Wait Until Dark is a strange, daring choice for Lakewood Playhouse to open its 79th season -- a fairly nasty thriller that features harsh violence and some truly disquieting moments. Far from the standard crowd-pleaser that tends to open a season of theater, Wait Until Dark is a pulpy suspense piece whose entire engine hinges around a blind woman being placed in situations of escalating peril. While it might help to be said, right up top, that I found this production to be an enjoyably mesmerizing, sometimes bracingly tense show, it's still an odd, perhaps inspired pick to greet audiences with after the summer hiatus.

Though Wait Until Dark was originally a Frederick Knotts play, attendees may be most familiar with its 1967 film adaptation, starring Audrey Hepburn and Alan Arkin, that did its part in portending the glut of exploitation movies to come. The basics of the story are simple, though the devil is in the details: while a blind woman's photographer husband is called out for the night, two con men invite themselves into her home, at the behest of the murderous Mr. Roat, to find a doll containing drugs. Complications build on top of each other, as our heroine slowly turns the tables, and the threat of violence looms on the horizon.

It's a tricky thing, having an actress play a blind character who's present for almost the entirety of the play without it becoming distracting or tasteless, but Deya Ozburn does a fine job as Susy Hendrix, paying homage to Hepburn's performance without doing an impression. The key to the sense of creeping dread is to really believe that this woman cannot see, and she clears that hurdle with aplomb, allowing the rest of the play to breathe. As Talman and Carino, the two men coerced into conning Susy, Jed Slaughter and Kerry Bringman (respectively), also have quite the task: they need to be believable as men repulsive enough to perform this job, while also portraying enough humanity to know that what they're doing is wrong. At this task, Slaughter and Bringman acquit themselves very well.

Finally, John Munn is outstanding as the menacing, deplorable Mr. Roat. I've seen Munn perform several times, in addition to seeing him introduce Lakewood Playhouse productions in his role as artistic director, and nothing in those instances prepared me for his turn, here. Dropping all traces of his avuncular nature, Munn disappears into what could easily be played as the thankless role of the Big Bad, ramping up the terror as he goes.

Performances aside, Wait Until Dark is profoundly aided by smart set and lighting design, taking advantage every bit of geography we come to learn about Susy's apartment, and dramatically darkening the stage at key moments -- with every light that gets eliminated, you may find yourself leaning more and more forward in your chair. Director James Venturini and his crew have done a wonderful job in bringing claustrophobic cat-and-mouse classic to the stage in all its lean, mean glory.

Wait Until Dark, 8 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays; 2 p.m., Sundays, through Oct. 8, $20-$26, Lakewood Playhouse, 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd. SW, 253.588.0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org

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